Although the grand international conventions we are now used to did not really exist before the mid-1800s, rules, norms and obligations date back for thousands of years. Rules on the use of violence can be traced as far back as the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1772 BC). But while many argue that the idea of law governing relations between political entities has existed for many years, others suggest that international law is still not much more than political obligation. Peter Spiro describes these individuals, who believe in the primacy of national, constitutional documents as more important than international law, as “the New Sovereigntists”. Futher, the War on Terror has challenged certain international laws regarding the use of force, conduct of military affairs and posed new questions in the form of the legal implications of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones.)

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is the role of international law in international society?
  2. How has international law changed since 1945?
  3. What challenges has the war on terror posed for international law?
  4. Is international law effective?


Baylis, Smith and Owens, The Globalisation of World Politics, Chapter 17.

M. Koskenniemi, “The Politics of International Law”, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 1, 1990. pp. 4-32.

American Journal of International Law, ‘Developments in International Criminal Law’ Vol. 93, No. 1, 1999. 1-123

ICRC: History of International Humanitarian Law: 

Statute of the International Court of Justice, Article 38:

J, Rabkin, "International Law vs. the American Constitution", National Interest, 1999.

J, Rabkin, “After Guantanamo: The War Over the Geneva Convention” National Interest, Summer 2002.

J, Rabkin, “Global Criminal Justice: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed” Cornell International Law Review Vol. 38:3, 2005. pp. 753-778

J. Ralph, “International Society, the International Criminal Court and American Foreign Policy”, Review of International Studies, Vol.31, No.1. 2005. pp.27-44.

P. Sands, Lawless World: American and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules, 2005.

W. Schabas, An Introduction to the International Criminal Court, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

P. Spiro, “The New Sovereigntists” Foreign Affairs Vol. 79, No. 6, November/December, 2000.

Suggested movie: Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) – In 1948, an American court in occupied Germany tries four Nazi judges for war crimes.